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Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called white truffles “diamonds of the kitchen”. The best of these fragrant white jewels come from Piedmont and Umbria, Italy, and can cost up to three times more than their black truffle counterparts. Part of their value lies in the fact that they can only be foraged, not farmed. They are sniffed out by specially trained, muzzled dogs under the roots of trees, the location of which the truffle hunter will do everything he can to keep secret. The season runs from the end of October until late December.
It is also, of course, an ingredient like no other – more of an aroma than a flavor. “There’s a strong earthy smell when you come within 20 yards of a white truffle,” said über-truffologist Franco Canta at lunch last week at Penati Al Baretto, Paris. “Then, when you taste it, the most surprising thing happens: the smell morphs into something delicate and quite unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before. The experience is deeply satisfying”, he sighs.
Alberico Penati, the Michelin-starred chef at Penati Al Baretto, agrees that it’s all about the nose. “To sell the truffle, you’ve got to have the aroma throughout the restaurant so people walk in and say, ‘Wow, that’s what I want to eat!’” With this in mind, outsize silver salad bowls punctuate Penati Al Baretto’s long bar counter brimming with organic eggs and white Alba truffles. They also flavor everything around it, he says. “If you store truffles in a jar with eggs, butter and rice– they’ll absorb the smell. You can then use the ingredients with the truffles: as a risotto or pasta dish, or try pan frying lamb chops with truffle butter; that has a fantastic flavor.”
“This year, white truffles are very valuable after a dry start to autumn in Italy,” he adds.
Franco Canta says that although the quantity of white truffles this year is low, the quality is fantastic. The secret to appreciating white truffles is to serve them with something bland so that the truffle flavor and aroma shine through,” said Franco Canta.
Last week chef Alberico Penati sent out these delicacies from the kitchen: Organic poached egg on toast with cépes, topped with white truffles. (Pair with the lively white Franciacorta Ca Del Bosco Brut 2010, 120€.) Next, ravioli maison stuffed with 24 month parmesan cheese, sage butter and white truffles. Then white truffles shaved over the Alba speciality of fresh tagliolini (“25 tuorli”) matched with spicy, red Barbaresco DOCG Nubiola 2011 from Giorgio Pellissero (160€). A main of langoustine on a bed of white Pigna beans, flavored with aromatic oil and more of the “white diamonds.” To finish: astringent bitter almond granite “Jumelle Pizzuta d’Avola” with a flute of Moscato D’Asti La Morandina 2012 (glass12€).
Penati Al Baretto, 9-11 Rue Balzac, 75008 Paris. Tel: +33 1 42 99 80 00. www.penatialbaretto.eu. Open every day for lunch and dinner except for Saturday lunch and Sunday.
Where can I buy white truffles and how much do they cost?
La Maison de la Truffe (truffle central since 1932) sells everything truffle-related from truffle sandwiches (8-15€), Alba and Truffe Noir Melanosporum. To enhance the white jewels, Sel Gris de Guérande Tuber Aestivum (18€). White Truffle Olive Oil (21.50-32.50€) Truffle Mustard Tuber Melanosporum (9€) Risotto with summer truffles (24.50€) Truffled Pralines (11€) or “the best of” Coffret La Truffe (189€) make wonderful gifts or will enhance your kitchen.
Mamma Mia, it’s good!
Maison de la Truffe Madeleine, 19 place Madeleine, 75008. Tel: +33 01 42 65 53 22
PS. At the time of writing I had a sad little note from Commander Enrico Frittoli, my Monaco-based truffle contact. “I have nothing this week, the weather has been awful. I’ll let you know when I have some news”, he promised. Fingers crossed then.
Lead photo credit : A dish at Penati Al Baretto/ credit: Jérôme Mondière